Frequently Asked Questions

Learn and Explore

Whether you are looking to find out whether your RV can travel Skyline Drive or just how many bears live in the park, this is the place to start. Follow the links for more information.  

 


Visiting

When is the park open?

Shenandoah National Park is always open. However, portions of the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, the only public road through the park, are periodically closed during inclement weather. Visitors can still enter the park on foot to hike even when the Drive is closed. Most park facilities, including lodges, visitor centers and campgrounds, are generally open from late-March through November. All park facilities, with the exception of a few picnic grounds and restrooms, are closed during the winter. Check out our operating hours to learn more.

How long does it take to get through the park?

The maximum speed limit throughout the park is 35 miles per hour. Speed limits are reduced in developed areas such as campgrounds and picnic grounds. With over 75 scenic overlooks along the way, most people need at least 3-4 hours to simply drive through the park. If you'd like to hike, stop at a visitor center, attend a ranger program, picnic, or truly experience what Shenandoah has to offer, you'll need to allow more time. Learn more about driving Skyline Drive.

What are the park entrance fees?

Shenandoah National Park is one of about 150 park service units that charge an entry fee. 80% of the fees collected at Shenandoah are returned to the park for specific projects. Check out our fees.

What activities can I do in the park?

Hiking, camping, picnicking, horseback riding, fishing, photography, bird watching, backpacking, wildlife observation, ranger programs- just to name a few! The many overlooks along Skyline Drive reveal wide valley views to the west and the Piedmont area to the east. You'll pass banks of wildflowers along the roadside and perhaps deer. A trail can lead you up a mountain or down a canyon, past waterfalls and wildlife and ancient rocks. You may pass old walls and homesites, too, for families lived here not long ago. You can also experience the past through a visit to Rapidan Camp (a National Historic Landmark) and to Massanutten Lodge (identified as part of the Skyline Drive National Historic Landmark). Or you can just sit somewhere - at an overlook, on a trailside rock, near a picnic table - absorbing the beauty and feeling of the silence settle around you. Learn more about things to do.

Where can I hike?

Shenandoah offers over 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Trails range from short, easy walks to long, rugged rock scrambles. Get ready to hike!

Where can I fish?

All park streams are open to catch-and-release fishing; additionally, some designated streams are open to harvest. Special regulations are in place and a Virginia state fishing license is required. Some hiking is required to reach fishing streams. Gone fishin'!

Where can I go horseback riding?

Skyland Resort at mile 41.7 offers guided horseback rides in the spring, summer, and fall. If you'd like to bring your own horse, Shenandoah offers over 180 miles of horse trails. Special regulations are in place for your safety and to help protect park resources. Get back in the saddle and go horseback riding!

Where can I ride my bike?

Cycling is permitted along Skyline Drive and on paved areas in the park. Cycling (road and mountain bikes) is not permitted on trails, unpaved roads, or in grassy areas. Be very careful if you decide to bike on the Skyline Drive. Drivers of cars, RVs, and motorcycles are often paying more attention to the scenery than to the roadway. Dense fog is possible any day of the year at any time of the day. Cyclists must have headlights and taillights during foggy conditions. Be prepared for steep uphill climbs and unforgiving road shoulders lined by rock walls. Learn more about cycling Skyline Drive.

Where can I see a waterfall?

There are a number of waterfalls in the park. None are visible from Skyline Drive. The shortest hike to a waterfall is 1.4 miles roundtrip to Dark Hollow Falls near milepost 51. It is a very popular hike that is steep and rocky in places.
Hogcamp Branch, the source of the waterfall in Dark Hollow, parallels the trail the entire way. The waterfall itself is a series of frothing cascades, glistening in the sunlight which filters through the trees. It is well worth the roundtrip trek of 1.4 miles, as long as you can take the return climb. Learn more about waterfalls.

Where can I kayak, raft, canoe, tube, or water ski?

The park has no navigable waters. Many people spend part of their trip outside of the park on the Shenandoah River to get their water fix. There are a number of private outfitters that rent equipment and operate guided trips along the river. The Shenandoah Valley Travel Association can help you locate outfitters and guides. Check out nearby attractions.

Where can I go swimming?

Swimming is allowed in all park streams, but most of them are shallow and rocky. Remember that these mountaintop streams can be extremely cold even during the summer. Most streams that are deep enough to wade or swim in require a hike to reach them. There are no swimming pools or lakes in Shenandoah National Park.

Can a large motor home, RV, or tour bus drive on Skyline Drive?

Motor homes, RVs, camping trailers, and horse trailers are welcome, but be prepared to shift into low gear. Also, if you plan on driving the entire 105 miles of the Skyline Drive, be sure you will clear Marys Rock Tunnel at mile 32.2 (just south of Thornton Gap entrance from Route 211) at 12'8". You can visit the park without traveling through the tunnel by visiting the northern or southern sections of the park.

Are there any gas stations in the park?

Yes, you can buy gas at Big Meadows Wayside (mile 51), but it is always a good idea to enter the park with a full tank of gas.

What is a wayside?

A wayside is a local term for a rest-stop with facilities. The waysides in the park are operated by DNC Parks & Resorts at Shenandoah, Inc., the park concessioner. Most offer groceries, a small restaurant or lunch counter, gasoline, gifts, and camping supplies.

Is the park accessible for wheelchairs, strollers, and persons with disabilities?

Most facilities and services in the park are accessible or accessible with assistance. Many Ranger programs are accessible. Limberlost Trail, milepost 43, is ADA accessible, with a crushed greenstone walkway on a gentle grade. This circuit hike of 1.3 miles is for people of all ages. Closed caption films are shown upon request at the visitor centers. Braille hiking guide books are available for loan at the Byrd Visitor Center (mile 51), and at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center (mile 4.7).
Strollers are generally allowed on park trails, most trails are not suitable for stroller use. The Limberlost Trail is the best trail choice with a stroller. Other trails can be rocky and very uneven. "Jogging-style" strollers, with larger, rugged wheels, may be used on some fire roads throughout the park. A short bike path at Big Meadows (mile 51), is also navigable with a stroller. Learn more about accessibility.

Are there visitor centers in the park?

There are two visitor centers in the park. Dickey Ridge Visitor Center is at mile 4.7 and Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center is at mile 51. At the visitor centers you will find Rangers to help with your trip planning, exibits, restrooms, and more. Learn more about visitor centers.

Where can I have a picnic?

There are a number of developed picnic grounds in the park with picnic tables, water, restrooms, fire pits with grills, and trash/recycling containers. You may also picnic at overlooks along Skyline Drive, in Big Meadows, or along hiking trails; however, there are no picnic tables or trash cans located in these areas. Please be considerate of other people in the area, and to clean up all food and trash when you are finished eating. Food may not be left unattended, as feeding bears and other wildlife (even unintentionally) is illegal. Go on a picnic!

Are there campgrounds in the park?

There are several developed campgrounds in the park. The open seasons of the campgrouns vary and you will want to consider making a reservation if you are looking to camp during a holiday, weekend, or the busy fall season. Go camping!

Are there lodges or cabins in the park?

Lodges and cabins in the park are operated by park concessionaire. DNC Parks & Resorts at Shenandoah, Inc. offers three lodging options: Skyland Resort at (mile 41.7), Big Meadows Lodge (mile 51.2), and Lewis Mountain Cabins at (mile 57.5). The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club maintains six primitive cabins in the park for long distance AT hikers. Learn more about lodging and the PATC cabins.

Do you have guided hikes in the park?

Free ranger-led programs, including walks, and hikes are available in spring, summer, and fall. DNC Parks & Resorts at Shenandoah, Inc., the park concessioner, offers paid guided hikes and other outdoor experiences. Attend a Ranger program or visit GoShenandoah.com to check out other activities.

 

Rules and Regulations

Are pets allowed in the park?

Pets are allowed in the park, but must be kept on a six-foot leash, or otherwise confined, at all times. Pets are allowed on most trails in the park, with the exception of a few heavily used trails. Pets are allowed in the campgrounds, and Skyland Resort has a few "pet friendly" rooms. Pets are not allowed on ranger programs. Enjoy the park with pets.

Is overnight parking or car camping allowed along the Skyline Drive or in the picnic grounds?

No, camping is not allowed along the road, in overlooks or in picnic grounds. Car camping is permitted only by registered campers in designated campgrounds only. If park campgrounds are full, there are a number of private campgrounds outside the park.

Are permits required to hike or camp?

Permits are not required for hiking. A free permit is required for backcountry camping in the park. Learn about backcountry camping.

 

Nature

What is the highest point in the park?

The highest point on the Skyline Drive is 3,680 feet at mile 41.7, the northern entrance to Skyland Resort. The highest point in the park, accessible by a moderate hike, is the summit of Hawksbill mountain at 4,050 feet. The top of Stony Man mountain, a fairly easy hike, is 4,010 feet.

How many bears are in the park and where can I see one?

Several hundred black bears live in Shenandoah National Park. When visiting the park you may spot a bear virtually anywhere (while hiking, camping, on a nature walk, or simply walking between your car and a lodge or restaurant). The opportunity to see a bear in the wild is the highlight of many park trips. Although black bears are generally shy, your ability to stay calm and know what to do is important for the safety of both yourself and the bear.

What do I do when I see a bear and how do I store food if I am camping?

Almost every year, park staff members are involved in taking steps to separate people from wildlife (hazing animals or relocating them). Every once in a while, staff is forced to destroy an animal because risks have become too great. This usually involves animals that have received food from people and are habituated to being in very close proximity to us. You can help us avoid these situations. Learn about bear safety.

When do the azaleas and mountain laurels bloom?

These colorful shrubs line the Skyline Drive and provide a beautiful display of color in early summer. Although it can vary from year to year and at different elevations, the dark pink azaleas generally bloom in late May to early June. The lighter pinkish-white blooms of the mountain laurels are generally the most profuse during the month of June. A walk through the wheelchair accessible Limberlost Trail when the laurels are blooming can be an unforgettable experience.

When and where is the best time to see wildflowers?

There are over 800 species of wildflowers in the park. This diversity is particularly evident in spring at the lower elevations along streams such as South River, Hughes River, Rose River, and Mill Prong. Later in the season, the banks of Skyline Drive and the Big Meadows area are great places to see summer and fall wildflowers. Come by and smell the wildflowers.

When is the best time to see fall colors?

Shenandoah National Park is over 70 miles long, and due to the varying elevations of this mountainous park, it's impossible to pick an accurate "peak date" for the entire park. History has shown us, however, that generally around the 2nd to 3rd weeks of October the colors of fall seem to be at their most brilliant stage. This does vary however. Over the last several years, we've noticed that many park trees are still showing off their fall foliage well into November. The color change does not happen all at once. Trees at the higher elevations change first, and this change moves slowly down the mountain. Each year the park posts progress reports for the fall color. When the colors start changing, be sure to check out the Fall Color Report.

 

History and Culture

Where does the name Shenandoah come from?

No one knows for sure. The park was named after the Shenandoah River, which flows through the Shenandoah Valley, located just west of the park. Many theories and versions exist as to what the word "Shenandoah" means, including: "daughter of the stars," "silver water," "river through the spruces," "river of high mountains," "great meadow." and "big flat place." It could also be named for the fallen chief Sherando or for a tribe called the Senedoes, who lived in the valley until 1730.

When was the park created?

Although Shenandoah National Park was authorized by Congress on May 22, 1926, it wasn't established until December 26, 1935. The park was officially dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 3, 1936. Explore Shenandoah's history and culture.

What is Rapidan Camp?

Rapidan Camp, formerly known as Camp Hoover, was the Summer White House of President Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover. It is situated where two streams join to form the Rapidan River, since Hoover liked to relax while fishing. He also conducted much business there. The President and his wife spent many weekends in the Camp in the Brown House, which has recently been reconstructed to conform to the appearance it had during their time (1929-1932). When leaving office, Hoover donated the property to the National Park Service for incorporation into the soon-to-be-established Shenandoah National Park. Today Rapidan Camp is a National Historic Landmark - and a site well worth visiting. You can hike down from Milam Gap or take a van ride from Byrd Visitor Center. Escape to Rapidan Camp.

What happened to the people who lived here before the park was established?

In the 1930s, over 400 families lived within the boundaries of what is now Shenandoah National Park. Some families moved out on their own. Others moved into homes in the resettlement communities set up by Rural Resettlement Administration. These homes, in several areas near the park, could be bought with no down payment and a low-interest mortgage. Several older individuals were allowed to live out their lives in their home within the park. Connect with Shenandoah's mountain residents.

Who were the CCC boys?

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New-Deal program. From 1933-1942, thousands of young men lived and worked in CCC camps in and adjacent to the park. The "boys" built rock walls, trails, fire roads, log structures, scenic overlooks, and more. They planted hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs and are responsible for much of what visitors to Shenandoah see today. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the work of the CCC boys in Shenandoah National Park. Learn about the Civilian Conservation Corps.

 

How can I get involved?

How can I make a donation to the park?

Donation boxes are available at park visitor centers. Park entrance stations are able to accept donations and can provide a cash register receipt. Park lodging facilities are able to accept donations on behalf of the Shenandoah National Park Trust.
Donations are accepted through the mail at:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Hwy 211 East
Luray, VA 22835

Last updated: November 20, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Shenandoah National Park
3655 U.S. Highway 211 East

Luray, VA 22835

Phone:

(540) 999-3500

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